Monday, October 23, 2017

Putin’s Promotion of Russian about Far More than Language, Gulfanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – Both the thematics Vladimir Putin has used and the timing of his barrage about not forcing anyone to study a non-Russian language that isn’t his or her own show that all this is “not a narrow issue” about language but rather a broader one about the survival of non-Russian republics and non-Russian nations in Russia, Rim Gulfanov says.

            On the one hand, Putin’s statement in Ufa came on the heels of the Kremlin’s refusal to extend the power-sharing agreement it had had with Kazan, the director of Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service points out and thus sent the clearest message yet that Moscow is not going to respect the laws and constitutions of non-Russian republics if they differ from Russia’s (

            And on the other, Putin and his advisors obviously feel that attacking the republics and non-Russian nations on the trumped up issue of voluntariness in the study of non-Russian languages – non-Russians in contrast have no choice but to study Russian – will play well with Russian nationalists and be viewed as reasonable by others in Russia and in the West.

            If Putin succeeds in imposing his will – and it is his will rather than Russian law or the Russian constitution which requires what he is requiring – the distinctive legal position of the non-Russian republics and their languages will be undermined; and thus the basis of their survival will be threatened.

            This stratagem may not work out as Putin and his advisors hope, however. In many cases around the world, residents of colonies who have been forced to give up their historical national language and adopt the language of their oppressors have become more, not less nationalist than they were before – and when eventually able, revive the languages the imperialists denied them.

            The case of the Irish is the classical one: the Irish did not become nationalists until they were forced to stop using Gaelic, but after gaining their independence from Britain, they have promoted the revival of Gaelic while not giving up on English. In short, language change in empires may work against the imperialists.

            Oleg Panfilov, a professor at Tbilisi’s Ilya University, echoes these views. He argues that Putin tried to build “a big empire of ‘the Russian world,’” but that didn’t work out. And consequently, he is seeking to achieve the russianization and russification of the peoples within his own country by force (

            “But  if one believes the sad predictions about the future of Russia,” the scholar says, “then the cause of the disintegration of the enormous empire will be the nationality question because neither Sakha nor Lezgins are going to become Russians” whatever language they are forced to speak.

            They are too dissimilar anthropologically, and now Putin has given them an additional reason to hold tight to their native languages and republics: “the xenophobia of ‘the indigenous Russians’ who disparagingly and offensively relate to the representatives of peoples who were at some point conquered by Russia.”

            In short and in this way as in so many others, Putin’s policies which so many see as successes are creating their own nemesis – and the nation in whose name they are being conducted will ultimately pay the price as a result.

Moscow’s Archaic Values Behind HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Russia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – The Russian government’s promotion of “obscurantism” and discrimination against high risk groups is why there are an estimated two million people are suffering from HIV and AIDS in that country, and Moscow’s opposition to changing course is why their number is likely to increase and more will die, Ilya Varlamov says.

            In an Ekho Moskvy commentary entitled “How the Obscurantists are Destroying Russia,” the Moscow writer says that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the product of hostility to homosexuals and drug users and the presence in senior government positions who call for “curing people with holy water” rather than medicines (

                A recent conference in Berlin of HIV/AIDS experts noted that last year, the number of new HIV cases in Russia registered with the authorities had passed the 100,000 mark.  The Western specialists said they were convinced that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe now threatens those countries and Western European ones as well. 

            The experts drew on UN figures which show that between 2010 and 2016, the number of HIV/AIDS cases fell by 29 percent in Africa and by nine percent in North America and Western Europe but in Eastern Europe and Russia and Ukraine dominated that figure, it rose by 60 percent over the same period. 

            The specialists described this as “a catastrophe’ and offered to lend their expertise, something the Russian government has rejected or at least restricted.  Russia under Putin “prefers to struggle with the illness by propagandizing family values,” something that statistics show does not work nearly as well as medical intervention.

            “The root of all problems, the specialists see in discrimination against those in high risk groups, above all drug users and homosexuals. [In Russia] hatred to these groups is pushed almost at the state level. And therefore it would be strange in such a situation to expect any real help from bureaucrats.”

            Some Russian officials are aware of this problem. Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal Center for Combatting HIV/AIDS, says that “recently in Russia, the religiosity of the population has intensified and sometimes taken very conservative forms which do not correspond to the contemporary development of society.” Western experts concur.

            It seems to be the case, Varlamov says, that “Russian bureaucrats think that if you’re not a gay or a drug user, then HIV will pass you by,” and that if Russia gets rid of these groups, it will “again become healthy and happy.” But that is nonsense: During the first half of this year, more Russians became infected by heterosexual contact than by other means combined.

            Officially, there are a million people in Russia infected with HIV and AIDS, one in every 140. But in some places, the number is as great as one in every 20 or five percent.  Many don’t know they are infected and so do not seek treatment early on when a cure is most possible. And so the best estimates are that there are about two million Russians suffering from this disease.

            If they had a government that was concerned about their fate rather than pushing obscurantism, far more of them would live.

Kremlin Can No Longer Hide Mounting Russian Combat Losses in Syria, Nesmiyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – It is already “impossible” for the Kremlin to hide from the Russian people the dozens or “more likely hundreds” of combat losses Russian forces have suffered in Syria because “many are dying in one place and at one time” for the authorities to be able to hide them, Rosbalt commentator Anatoly Nesmiyan says. 

            Government media have gone through all the stages of denial they usually employ, he says. First, they have called those who suggest the losses are large liars, then they insist that these are only rare cases, then they declare the soldiers “knew what they were getting into” and finally that “this is in the interests of Russia” (

                “Nevertheless, losses are really growing, and only a policy of silence and complete denial by the powers that be can try to conceal them,” Nesmiyan says.  According to him, there are three reasons why Russian combat losses in Syria have gone up in recent weeks, and all of them are disturbing.

            First of all, the Syrian army is disintegrating, and Russian units are having to play a larger role. Second, Moscow wants results and wants them sooner rather than later, forcing Russian commanders to become more aggressive and to take more losses. And third, Russia’s reliance on mercenaries means commanders are more willing to sacrifice such forces than their own men.

            Everywhere there are reports about losses, although their number is unspecified and it is impossible now to say just how many, but there are certainly dozens of combat deaths and even more wounded.  “The question of what this is in aid of is inevitable,” all the more so because of the internal inconsistencies in Russian government propaganda about this.

            Moscow describes what it is doing as a counter-terrorist operation, but when one fights terrorists, one encounters groups of perhaps up to a hundred. When there are “tens of thousands,” that means something else is going on, needs to be acknowledged and new and different strategies adopted.

            All this is creating a problem for the Russian regime, Nesmiyan concludes, because the Russian people can increasingly see they are taking losses for a cause whose real purpose they can also see they aren’t being told.